Regatta Daze in the Bay

Regatta Daze in the Bay

New infrastructure for the race will be build along San Francisco’s waterfront.
Courtesy AECOM

After flirting with Newport, Rhode Island, the organizers of the 34th America’s Cup sailing competition, which will take place in 2013, have in the end committed to San Francisco. It’s a promising match in a number of ways. Silicon Valley-based Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, the event’s most visible booster, can see his team defend the cup on (almost) home turf; sailing fans get to see the action from the shore, unlike past America’s Cup races; and the city gets additional funds and a significant impetus to improve its waterfront.

The event’s infrastructure, temporary buildings, and event operations along a wide swath of the city’s waterfront—including several piers and sites including Fort Mason, Crissy Field, Alcatraz, and Treasure Island— are estimated to cost several hundred million dollars. To reach the finish line, the city is fast-tracking the EIR process, which requires approvals from at least 16 local, state, and federal regulatory agencies by the end of the year.

The boat race route and planned improvements along the city’s waterfront.
[Click to enlarge.]

The master planning, engineering, and design of temporary structures is being overseen by AECOM, which has been involved since the city began pursuing the project, while the event headquarters will be located in the new cruise terminal at Pier 27, designed by KMD and Pfau Long Architecture, and now on an accelerated schedule.

“We’ve had a plan for 20 years, but this gives us a huge ability to actually implement it,” said Jonathan Stern, assistant deputy director of the Port of San Francisco, which owns the event’s primary sites. After the 1991 Loma Prieta earthquake, the city developed a Waterfront Land Use Plan, which restricts the waterfront to public uses and forbids hotels and high rises over water.

A $70 million cruise terminal can also accommodate events.
Courtesy KMD and Pfau Long Architecture

New construction agreed to by the city includes the $25 million Brannan St. Wharf, a public green. The event authority will foot the bill for other permanent infrastructure improvements, including $55 million to shore up Piers 30-32 just south of the Bay Bridge, and $7 million to remove the existing building and clear the Pier 27 site. In return, the event authority will get long-term development rights for Piers 30-32 and Seawall Lot 330. The new Exploratorium science museum, designed by EHDD, is also expected to open around that time on Pier 15, so the entire zone between the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf will see a flurry of activity.

A modern version of the industrial warehouses along the piers, the 96,000-square-foot, $70 million cruise terminal is being designed as a flexible structure able to accommodate various events as well as cruise arrivals and departures. The top level will be glassed-in on three sides, while the lower level will have glass roll-up garage doors to allow events to open to the outdoors. “We’re trying to reflect the working nature of port buildings,” said Ryan Stevens, director of design for KMD.  

Overlooking planned waterfront improvements including new green space and cruise terminal.

The event organizers estimate that the city will gain about 800 jobs lasting a year and up to $1.5 billion in economic activity, as well as the undefined value of greater visibility in the maritime industry. “This really is a really unique maritime use, and we hope it will activate people’s imaginations about the possibilities of this area,” said Stern.

SOM, working for the city on the presentation used to entice the race organizers to stay in San Francisco, had painted an architectural vision for the America’s Cup. Their rendering of an ampitheatre that resembled an airy Calatrava bridge, alas, is likely to remain a rendering.

“The event is not about architecture—it’s about the architecture of the boats,” pointed out Stern.